Judge: Adult Business Owner Cannot Bar Prosecution
A Tampa federal judge has denied an adult business owner’s attempt to bar the State Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him under a state racketeering law if he sets up shop in Polk County.
Orlando businessman Gregory Burris, who owns about 10 video stores in Florida and Georgia, claimed, that as it relates to obscenity, Florida’s RICO law — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — violated his rights to free speech and stifled free expression.
State Attorney Jerry Hill’s office has brought numerous RICO-related charges against owners of adult book and video stores since he took office. Prosecutors and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office have made a point to shut down all adult businesses in the county.
U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore ruled that Burris hadn’t shown that prosecutors in Hill’s office misused the law.
“There has been no showing in this record that Defendant (Jerry Hill) has prosecuted or threatened to prosecute any individual under Florida’s RICO Act for distribution of materials which do not meet the definition of obscene,” Whittemore wrote in his decision released last week.
Burris maintains he was compelled to close Video Plus in Lakeland in 1998 because he was unable to make money. In the lawsuit, Burris claimed he was afraid of being prosecuted under the RICO Act if he sold adult videos.
An orlando admin law attorney for Burris, Steven Mason, said Hill uses high bail as well as the threat of a 60-year jail sentence and $20,000 fine to leverage plea bargains with the defendants.
No adult books or videos were ever sold at the store.
Sheriff’s Col. Grady Judd said the video store was disguised as a mom and pop store. “It was a front to violate the obscenity laws of the state of Florida,” Judd said.
Mason, an Orlando attorney who has previously fought authorities on laws that regulate adult businesses, said he will mount a vigorous appeal.
“We are not giving up,” Mason said Tuesday. “If we don’t prevail in appeals court in Atlanta, we will go all the way to (Washington) D.C.”
“I don’t know if Grady Judd knows Steve Mason, but we will keep on going,” Mason said.
Mason said an adult business will eventually prevail in Polk County.
“This type of process is archaic and small-minded,” Mason said. “Whether we win or not, the Grady Judd mentality will not be the prevailing view.”
Mason has 30 days to appeal the verdict.
Chip Thullbery, administrative assistant for the State Attorney’s Office, said Mason would lose the appeal.
“We are pleased with the ruling,” Thullbery said. “We are confident that an appeal will not change the result that has been reached.”s